Girls Learn to Live the Life They Want in Angola
"I’m learning a lot and this is helping build my life,” says Alice about the programme that helps develop leadership skills in young Angolan women. “When I heard that I was going to give a speech, I thought, ‘how am I going to face everyone?’” This is how Alice Flora Silvestre, 23, remembers the day she talked to young students about sexual and reproductive health.
“I thought I was going to speak to a small group, but all the students were gathered in the school’s courtyard. ‘How am I going to start it?’ I thought. So, I introduced myself and everyone paid attention to me. And I explained things and slowly began to open up.”
The opportunity for this shy young woman to give a speech at a high school in central Angola arose from People in Need’s Gender and Civil Society Programme, funded by the European Union and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Angola. Together with the Angolan organisation ASY (Soka Yola Association), People in Need has been supporting young women in both the Huíla and Bié provinces.
Alice was selected, together with 38 other women, to take part in training courses with the aim of developing a new style of thinking in young female leaders. “I relied on the courses to be able to give my speech, and they said they liked it very much. It was a very good experience, and next time I’ll be more prepared,” says Alice.
“Now, I can ask some questions, but I’m still shy. However, I’m confident that in the future I’ll be able to talk as much as they do."
She acknowledges that she felt uneasy about speaking in public, even during the trainings. “I couldn’t talk, because the other participants talk too much,” she says with a smile. Encouraged by the coaches and the People in Need team, she changed her behaviour. “Now, I can ask some questions, but I’m still shy. However, I’m confident that in the future I’ll be able to talk as much as they do,” adds Alice.
Learning about sexual and reproductive health
The main topic of Alice’s speech was adolescent pregnancy. As the mother of a 1-year-old girl, she herself has faced difficulties due to a general lack of information. “I had no idea about what pregnancy was. I wasn’t ready for it,” she says. She has taken part in People in Need’s courses on sexual and reproductive health, and she believes that the new knowledge will help her make better decisions in the future.
Evanescência Jamba, a 31-year-old teacher from Lubango, also participated in the course. “Now, we are sharing the information from the training with students and their parents, because the parents should be the first to educate their children on sexual and reproductive health, without any sort of taboo,” she says.
“The coach [of the training] told us to talk about sexual and reproductive health fearlessly, based on the age of the child, the adolescent or the adult,” she adds, pointing out the importance of spreading the information in order to contribute to change in Angola. “We need to be more serious about sexual and reproductive health, considering the alarming pregnancy rate among adolescents. And those girls often drop out of school,” Evanescência Jamba explains.
Adolescent birth rates in Angola are 166 for every 1000 girls aged 15 to 19 years, according to data collected from the World Health Organisation. This is well above the global rate of 47 for every 1000 women. Joanisbel Xavier is a 23-year-old who also faced an early pregnancy. “I became pregnant at 15, and it was a very hard period of my life. I had to take care of my daughter as a single mother. I was shaken by this situation,” she recalls.
Family support allowed Joanisbel to stay in school – even though her grades were lower. “If my family hadn’t been there for me, I can’t imagine where I’d be today,” she says. And it is within her family that she’s sharing the information from the training courses, especially with her 15-year-old sister. “I’m afraid that she will face the same thing I did. This is why I try to tell her the things that I’ve been learning, so that she knows how to avoid pregnancy,” says Joanisbel.
The fight against domestic violence
Before becoming a member of the Young Women Association of Bié and being selected for the Capacity Building Programme, Joanisbel had already known about People in Need’s work in the gender and civil society sectors. As an actress in the local theatre group, Maristas, she’s taken part in short programmes about domestic violence that were broadcasted on the local radio station in Bié back in 2015.
“I heard women in the association talking about domestic violence. In my plays at the theatre, I’ve also heard about it, so I knew what it was about. So, I thought that, instead of only performing in radio plays, I could also be part of a group that runs awareness-raising campaigns concerning the problem of domestic violence,” explains Joanisbel.
Alzira Nanjolosse, 29, says that the invitation to become a member of the association and follow the trainings came at a time of conflict in her marriage. A mother of five, Alzira says that the trainings, especially the ones about human rights, have given her knowledge and strength to positively influence the situation at home.
“When my husband yells, I say, ‘there must be equality between us, not all this should falls on the woman. The woman is a human being, like the husband, so let’s help each other.’”
“The course talked about gender equality, that women have the right to life, health, freedom,” she explains. “When my husband yells, I say, ‘there must be equality between us, not all this should falls on the woman. The woman is a human being, like the husband, so let’s help each other.’” Another thing that changed her mindset was when she started selling clothes at a fair in order to earn an income. She says that her friends have noticed some changes, too. “They tell me they no longer hear arguments at my home, and they say that I’ve changed. I only answer that I’ll change even more.”
Thirty-eight women in the Bié and Huíla provinces, aged 18 to 35 years, are participating in People in Need’s Capacity Building Programme. In addition to the topics mentioned, there are also trainings on public policies, associativism, female leadership, advocacy and project management.
All participants are members of Angolan civil society organisations. Some of those groups were selected to receive small grants aimed at developing projects to raise awareness about gender equality and female empowerment, and promote the dialogue with local government institutions about the same issues.
Alice summarises what People in Need’s work has meant for young women like her. “I’ve never had the opportunity to learn so many things. In the neighbourhood where I live, there aren’t many places where people can learn things. This is why I like it so much, because I’m learning how to express myself. This is helping me to build my life.”